Major League general managers usually begin more serious trade discussions the weekend after the June draft. The communication within the GM family increases dramatically during this time period with phone calls, texts and emails. These conversations mostly involve a discovery period -- touching base with all 30 teams to find out what their needs are and which players might become available between now and the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. These needs can change on a weekly or bi-weekly basis because of injuries, change in a player’s performance or a long winning or losing streak, turning a team from a buyer to seller or vice versa. Therefore, GMs stay in constant communication the rest of the way.
If the clubs feel like there is an obvious fit, initial trade proposals will be exchanged. These proposals are normally low-ball type offers that begin the process. Some deals are made in June, more by the All-Star break and most the last week in July. Some GMs make the trade negotiation process long and drawn out; others don’t play games and get right to the point. The process doesn’t matter as long both parties understand each other.
Every GM also has a different negotiating style in terms of communication. Some GMs prefer to text and email until a deal is close; others will only discuss on the phone or in person. There are even some GMs today who delegate the communication aspect of trade negotiations completely to their assistant GMs.
I used to have a magnetic board behind my desk during my years as GM that was designated solely for trades this time of year. I would list all 30 clubs and put down each team’s needs and players they had available for trade. I would also have a ranking of all of their players from the major league club all the way down to rookie ball. The most important part of the board was the "Trade Target" list. This list ranked all the players in baseball that we wanted to trade for. After communicating with the other GMs, the responses would be recorded next to the player’s name.
The professional scouting department of each team evaluates and submits scouting reports on all 30 major league and 180 minor league teams. These evaluations take place all year long, with as many as six different opinions on each player at every level from rookie ball to the major leagues made available to each GM. These reports are supplemented by the player development department, the major league field staff and special assistants to the GMs.
Every team has different trade strategies and methods of operation. However, if two teams are close to a deal, normally each club will send in their best evaluators to confirm or change the club’s trade value of a player. This of course could involve as many as five different teams (Low A, High A, AA, AAA and ML) and six different evaluators. These scouts will evaluate trade targets on a club for four to five games, then jump on a plane and do the same at the next level. There isn't enough time to have your best evaluators cover a total of 210 major and minor league teams thoroughly, so it’s important to assess your most realistic trade partners early. When a new trade idea or team becomes involved, the scout’s flight plans can change in a hurry.
GMs are studying scouting reports, contracts, medical information, player make-up and character, analyzing statistics and sabermetrics, watching video, and getting input from their manager, field staff, scouts, and special assistants on a daily basis while keeping their team presidents and owners informed of the process. Negotiating trade with three to five different GMs per day this time of year is normal.
The best chance to make a deal is when both teams are given ample time to send in their best scouts for final evaluation. Deals can rarely be made the final week of July without weeks of preparation, negotiations and evaluations.
Sometimes it takes four to six weeks to make a trade, and that’s why many GMs will start the process with more intensity this week.